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Afghanistan Begins to Rebuild as U.S. Siege Narrows

January 13, 2002|From a Times Staff Writer

KABUL, Afghanistan — This country increasingly feels like two countries: a southeastern swath that is under siege from American bombing where suspected Al Qaeda operatives are believed to be hiding, and the remainder, which is starting the process of rebuilding.

In eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, U.S. warplanes continued to strike areas around the eastern city of Khowst, and a disarmament operation was underway in the southern border city of Spin Buldak.

Spin Buldak, which is southeast of Kandahar, is a former stronghold of the deposed Taliban regime. The BBC Pashto-language news reported that the city was closed for a second day while interim government troops, aided by American forces, went through the town disarming people.

Meanwhile in Kabul, the capital, the Defense Ministry took the first steps toward building a national army. After holding a meeting of commanders from all ethnic and tribal groups, interim Defense Minister Mohammed Qassim Fahim ordered every province to send 200 men between the ages of 20 and 25 to Kabul to form the basis of an army. There are 30 provinces in Afghanistan, so the initial force would be at most 6,000 strong.

At the same time Saturday, several government officials were in the midst of discussions about the amount of money their sectors will need to rebuild. Haji Mohammed Mukhaqiq, who is in charge of planning for the six-month interim administration, said the country needs at least $15 billion for immediate reconstruction and will present its proposals to a pledging conference of more than 50 countries in Tokyo on Jan. 21-22. At the moment, not even the government ministries have telephones, vehicles or computers, so it is difficult for them even to start the job of organizing a reconstruction effort.

The need for money as soon as possible was underscored by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), who was in the midst of a three-day visit to the Afghan capital. Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for an immediate infusion of money to help the new government begin to operate before the country slides back into chaos.

Relatively smaller financial aid packages that arrive swiftly, he said, are needed more than promises of larger sums in six months or a year.

The United States, Biden said, is considering unfreezing Taliban assets--as much as $100 million locked up in banks worldwide following the attacks of Sept. 11--to provide quick assistance.

The plan, he said, would "literally give the Afghans back some of their money."

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